During his confirmation hearings, Attorney General William P. Barr’s memo objecting to the probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s obstruction of justice investigation got the most attention. But another of his curious arguments got short-shrifted. It was the time he suggested there was less evidence to support a Russia-collusion investigation than there was to support some other investigations.
Except some of the potential investigations he cited were largely regarded as conspiracy theories.
“I have long believed that the predicate for investigating the [Hillary Clinton] uranium deal, as well as the [Clinton] Foundation, is far stronger than any basis for investigating so-called ‘collusion,' ” Barr wrote to the New York Times’s Peter Baker in 2017. “Likewise the basis for investigating various ‘national security’ activities carried out during the election. . . . To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the Department [of Justice] is abdicating its responsibility.”
That William Barr is beginning to rear his head.
Barr tried to downplay this exchange during his confirmation hearings, and even in raising questions about how the Russia investigation was launched recently, he has emphasized he has no proof of wrongdoing.
But in a couple of new interviews, Barr leans in on the idea that these “various ‘national security’ activities” were nefarious — pretty hard.
In both a Wall Street Journal interview and another with Fox News, Barr cited the need to understand whether the U.S. government had put its “thumb on the scale” during the 2016 election. He told Fox that “there were some very strange developments” during the 2016 transition period. He said the answers he’s getting have been “inadequate” and “not sufficient.”
One of his more noteworthy and telling comments was about the Steele dossier. This was the document used to secure a FISA warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. “It’s a very unusual situation to have opposition research like that, especially one that on its face had a number of clear mistakes and a somewhat jejune analysis, and to use that to conduct counter-intelligence against an American political campaign is a strange —," he said.
Barr then seemed to check himself and scale back his connecting of the dots, “— would be a strange development. I’m not sure what role it played, but that’s something we have to look at.”
Barr’s most curious comment, though, might have been this: When he was asked about why Democrats have suggested Barr lied in his testimony, he speculated that “they may be concerned about the outcome of a review of what happened during the election."
So here we have a guy who emailed a reporter in 2017 raising questions about “various ‘national security’ activities." (Note the quotation marks he himself used there, suggesting skepticism.) And He did this even before the Nunes memo came out and at a time when many in the GOP weren’t embracing this kind of rhetoric. He then adopts President Trump’s “spying” rhetoric while announcing the Justice Department would look into such allegations. He taps a U.S. attorney to look into these matters. And now he’s calling the use of the Steele dossier both “strange” and “unusual,” and saying the answers he’s getting aren’t adding up.
It sounds a lot like the guy who believed in the plausibility of this conspiracy theory even before many in his own party adopted it. And it sounds like he’s gradually becoming more comfortable saying so.